Saturday, April 28, 2007

Grey's Anatomy - April 28, 2007



Doctor's orders

ABC needs a cure for its programming woes.
A Grey's Anatomy spinoff might be
just the right medicine.

By Eric Kohanik

When TV networks have a big hit series on their hands, they often try to see if they can get lightning to strike twice.

And, often, that means spinning that hit off into a new series.

Sometimes, networks get the idea as the original show comes to an end. That’s how Cheers was spun off into Frasier.

Unfortunately, that’s also how Friends gave birth to Joey.

More and more, however, networks are taking existing TV hits that still have lots of mileage left in them and turning them into “franchises” that lead to new shows. That’s how NBC took Law & Order and came up with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. It’s also how CBS took CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and spun it off into CSI: Miami, which then spawned CSI: NY.

ABC is desperate to find that sort of franchise, too. The network toyed with one idea last season, in an episode of Boston Legal, a show that is itself a spinoff from a previous ABC legal drama called The Practice. The episode, which featured guest star Robert Wagner, was set in the Los Angeles offices of the fictional law firm of Crane, Poole & Schmidt. But it didn’t really go anywhere.

The need seems even more pressing for ABC this season. Such established shows as Desperate Housewives and Lost have clearly lost much of their heat this season. And many of the network’s new series – Help Me Help You, Big Day, Day Break, The Knights of Prosperity, In Case of Emergency, Justice, The Nine, Six Degrees and October Road – have more or less fizzled. So, ABC really needs something big.

Enter Grey’s Anatomy.

Clearly one of the most compelling ensemble dramas on TV today, Grey’s Anatomy gets better with each passing week. ABC is even rerunning episodes of the Thursday drama on Friday nights, with moderate success. It seems to be a natural breeding ground for a credible spinoff.

So, pay attention to this week’s episode of the show. It is meant to set the stage for exactly that to happen.

The star-studded two-hour instalment weaves much of its storyline around Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh), the dishy ex-wife of the show’s resident “Dr. McDreamy,” Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey). A relative latecomer to the medical team that populates Seattle Grace Hospital, Montgomery is now facing a decision about leaving their ranks, thanks to a tempting job offer that comes her way in Los Angeles.

Of course, whether or not she accepts the offer and moves away will depend on whether or not network executives will want to go for a Grey’s Anatomy spinoff.

Given ABC’s lousy track record this season, it’s a pretty safe bet they will.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

DVDs, DVRs and TV Viewership - April 21, 2007



Strategic viewing

So, a TV network is cancelling new shows that look intriguing?
No sweat! Thanks to DVDs and DVRs, there are a number of ways around that problem.

By Eric Kohanik

The coming week’s roster of DVD releases has an interesting collection of TV series in the mix.

Sure, there are the usual, memorable classics. Fox Home Entertainment looked back to 1978 to unearth the first season of WKRP in Cincinnati as a three-disc package. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, meanwhile, reached back to 1975 to deliver the first season of One Day at a Time as a two-disc set.

Paramount Home Video went all the way to 1970 to put the first season of The Odd Couple onto five discs. On the other hand, Warner Home Video only went back to 1995 to come up with the first season of The Drew Carey Show as a four-disc collection.

What truly caught my eye, though, is Sony’s release of a three-disc rendition of a series from the current TV season: Kidnapped.

A drama that starred Jeremy Sisto, Timothy Hutton and Dana Delany, Kidnapped premiered Sept. 20 on NBC and Global, aiming to unfold its fictional conflict – the abduction of a teenaged son of a wealthy New York family – over the course of an entire season.

Trouble is, the show didn’t last long enough to finish its story on the air.

It’s such a shame. Every year, network executives keep promising to show patience for new shows when it comes to letting them find their audiences. Then, when the shows don’t take off right away, they get yanked.

It’s odd, too. By the time a series makes it to the air, it has been extensively “tested.” Scripts have been read by dozens of individuals. Cast members have been paraded in front of both studio and network brass for approval. And the finished show has been screened by studios, networks and focus groups that give lots and lots of feedback.

With all that input, it’s astounding that so many new shows still bite the dust so fast. It’s the loyal viewers who always get the short end of the stick, of course. And it’s frustrating for them. So, it’s no surprise that some are coming up with clever solutions.

A co-worker and another acquaintance recently revealed to me, quite coincidentally, that they have developed similar viewing strategies. Rather than watch a new series when it airs, they record all the episodes of the show on a VCR or DVR and then just leave them there, unwatched, until they are certain the show won’t be cancelled.

If the series sticks around, they sit down for marathon viewing sessions of the recorded shows until they’re all caught up. If the show does get whacked, they simply erase the episodes, content that they haven’t wasted hours of their lives for nothing.

TV executives always bemoan the decline in traditional TV viewership, but many are actually fuelling that fire. The more quickly they cancel new shows, the more they convince viewers not to bother watching new shows.

After all, those viewers can just record them and wait. Or just wait for the DVDs.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Hockey Night In Canada - April 14, 2007



Let's make a deal

The NHL has a nasty habit of grovelling to
American networks while sticking it to
Canadian ones. It’s all part of the
power play of hockey on TV.

By Eric Kohanik

Hey, it’s mid-April! And, in theTV universe – the Canadian TV universe, that is – it means the annual ritual of Stanley Cup hockey playoffs has begun.

It’s a nightly ritual at first. Then, it eases up. Still, the ritual will stretch from now until mid-June, when sane people’s thoughts are focused on anything but a midwinter sport.

Over the course of the next two months, National Hockey League playoffs will throw CBC’s topsy-turvy program schedule into even greater disarray than usual. But this is actually a good thing.

There had been widespread fear in the halls of the taxpayers’ network that it might all change after next season. Having already lost curling and Canadian football (starting in 2008) and the 2010 and 2012 Olympics to CTV, the folks at CBC were nervous. In fact, there had been industry-wide speculation for months that CTV was determined to snag the rights to Hockey Night in Canada – no matter the cost.

So, it was with a huge sigh of relief that CBC’s top brass announced late last month that they had hammered out a six-year agreement with the NHL to keep HNIC in its stable right on through to the end of the 2013-14 season.

CBC didn’t disclose the money involved, but industry analysts have pegged the price at around $85 million per year, up considerably from the $60-million annual levy CBC is reportedly paying now.

“For the record, this was a good deal for the NHL,” league commissioner Gary Bettman crowed at a Toronto press conference as the agreement was announced.

It’s a pretty greedy deal for the NHL, too – especially when you consider how the league grovels, hat in hand, whenever it negotiates with big American TV networks. Shortly after the CBC announcement was made, NBC – which has national network TV rights to NHL games in the United States – announced it also had a deal with the league.

The peacock network’s agreement is simply a one-year extension of its current pact, which gives it the rights to a weekly game as well as the Stanley Cup finals.

For this, NBC pays nothing up front. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Instead, the network simply tosses the NHL a chunk of the advertising money it gets from its game telecasts.

That’s a lousy deal for the NHL. But then, what do you expect? This is a league with a propensity for whoring itself whenever it comes to chasing the elusive American audience while sticking it to Canadian fans and Canadian TV networks.

Don’t feel sorry for the CBC, though. The only reason any TV network spends big money to get something is because there’s even bigger money to be made by having it.

After all, “the CBC” just wouldn’t be “the CBC” without NHL hockey on its airwaves for nine months of the year.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Sopranos - April 7, 2007

Sundays; HBO (U.S.)
The Movie Network (Eastern Canada)
Movie Central (Western Canada)


Mad about the Mob

After all these years, Tony Soprano is still struggling to find some answers. And it's still so much fun to watch him search for them.

By Eric Kohanik

Let me tell you about my first face-to-face encounter with Tony Soprano.

I talked about it once before, shortly after it happened. But I have to bring it up again now.

It was on the streets of New York City, way back in September 2000. Little did anyone know then that, a year later, the Big Apple – and the entire world, for that matter – would be turned upside down by terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

On this sunny September day, Tony Soprano – er, make that actor James Gandolfini – was making his way from his dressing-room trailer outside the former bakery/warehouse that is now Silvercup Studios.

He was heading to the set to do a scene for HBO’s The Sopranos. Dressed in a light-grey suit, a pink shirt and a silk tie, Gandolfini fixed me with a cold stare that made him every bit as intimidating as the mob boss he plays on TV.

The publicist who was with me warned me ahead of time not to talk to Gandolfini if it looked as if he was in character.

“Hey,” I mumbled meekly as his eyes met mine. “How you doin’?”

He simply nodded and kept going.

Later that day, executive producer David Chase summed up what he thought was at the core of his show’s success.

“It’s because of James Gandolfini,” Chase told me. “I think there’s something about him in this role that is just a lot of things to a lot of people. I think the story of Tony Soprano, as embodied by James Gandolfini, is very touching because he’s struggling and trying to make sense out of life.”

The Sopranos begins its final season on pay TV this weekend, with the first of nine episodes. After watching the first couple of them, it’s clear that Tony is still trying to make sense out of life.

Of course, it’s a different Tony now. Touched by a near-death experience last year, he found a set of questions to ponder then. As this season clicks into gear, he grapples with a few more.

Fearing that age is finally catching up with him, Tony now questions his legacy, the loyalty of those close to him and his line of succession in the “family” business. The issues are exacerbated by the heat being put on him by the cops – and by ill health that has befallen jailed rival mobster Johnny (Sack) Sacramoni (Vincent Curatola).

It’s hard to say where Tony will end up as The Sopranos moves toward its grand finale. I can’t wait to see, though. After all these years, it’s still a joy to watch him.

Coming face to face with Gandolfini on a New York street, it was easy to see why.

“He has eyes that are just a mile deep,” Chase explained then. “There’s so much pain, and love, and joy in his face. And people love watching him.”

That’s as true today as it was back then.